Crash & burn

I realized last night that I can sometimes pinpoint the exact moment when a story draft falls apart. There I was, finally getting into the meaty section that I’d been writing toward all along, when I realized that the story had evolved into a flat-out disaster of a draft. And it seemed to have been going so well!

In this case, coming to the crux of the story revealed to me that the preceding 2K words were just warm-up/wheel-spinning/time-wasting, all masquerading as set-up (this is actually standard operating procedure for me, but I’m fooled over and over again into thinking that’s not the case on whatever shiny new project is underway).

If only it was as simple as whacking off those words and going with the meaty stuff. But every story needs a rise and fall, and until I’m finished with the draft, I won’t know what the final shape is: what is essential, what can be left behind, how time should be organized to create an arc around the remainder, what new material I need to bring in to make sense of it all.

The frustrating thing on this particular project was that going into it, I thought I had a good handle on the shape/arc. I say frustrating, and while it is, a little, it’s also fine. This is all part of the process. When I realized that the story was doomed, I shook my head, rolled my eyes, and kept writing. It’s all one can do. If I scrapped it at that point and started over, I’d inevitably arrive at a similar crisis point, and soon I’d be trapped in an endless loop of never-ending garbage.

I’m sure other people have different ways of navigating this sort of story implosion, but writing is a solitary pursuit, and it is only by trying and rejecting different approaches that one can arrive at one’s own particular method of hazardous waste cleanup. One reason I force myself to finish drafts is that you never know what strange turn a story might take, regardless or pre-planning.

“It is fatal to know too much at the outcome: boredom comes as quickly to the traveler who knows his route as to the novelist who is overcertain of his plot.” -Paul Theroux


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